It’s no secret that we here at Finger Guns are rather big fans of 2021’s rogue-like masterpiece Hades. Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior takes the core combat conceits of Hades and merges it with a tactical spice akin to something like Peaky Blinders: Mastermind. If upon hearing that, your immediate response is “huh… how would that even work?”, then you’ll be in the same mindset I was.
Expectations and conventional genre norms be damned, however, because Lysfanga works. With the ability to rewind time and create spectre clones of yourself, your ability to bring the hurt is magnified… significantly. As with all things time-bendy, there are the occasional losses of logic and aggravating moments, but they pale in comparison to Lysfanga’s ingenuity.
Let’s make like Hermione attending classes and the Prince of Persia rescuing the princess, and roll the flow of time back to see how this title holds up.
How Imë I Help You?
The hack-and-slash heroine of Lysfanga is Imë – a no-nonsense master of blades, runes and time itself. At the beginning of your adventure, Imë is thrown into the seismic battlegrounds of all-powerful Gods. Her brother is acting mysteriously, she’s been bestowed with the ability to replicate herself. Oh, and there’s the Raxes, creatures whose sole purpose is to stand in her way.
Lysfanga succeeds more in its world and lore than a direct story, which ends up rather predictable. Notable figures and characters are relatively one-note and there’s little in the dialogue to really sink into. I liked perusing around the home camp with the various reformed golem beings. Though, this was more for their charmingly silly voices than their actual backstories.
Imë herself is a likeable protagonist, her stakes nicely established thanks to what’s going on with her brother. However, it never amounts to much more than alright. Given the backing of Quantic Dream, I had maybe expected a bit more from Lysfanga, which maybe unfairly counted against it. As I said before though, the locations you visit, the types of figures you meet and the magical abilities you wield do lend a sense of immersion to the world.
As in the name, the core principle guiding Imë on her journey is time. Irreplaceable, forever moving and capable of spawning all manner of golden replicas of yourself, time is rather important. Interestingly, the story doesn’t make too much of a big deal of this. Gameplay-wise though, it couldn’t be more essential to crafting what is a rather unique blend of hack-and-slash fun.
Këhor What You Wish For
In your efforts to stop the Raxes taking over, you’ll be engaging in numerous encounters. Each battle is set in an arena, with basic square and triangle combos to execute. However, you’ll quickly discover you don’t have enough time to eradicate everything, even with all the destructive will in the world. Instead, you’ll need to reset, either manually or by time running out, and have another run.
This is where the Peaky Blinders: Mastermind element emerges in full force. You can acquire up to 15 remnants, each re-running your previous works simultaneously with your current one. This leads to all manner of tactical conundrums. Do you deviate onto multiple paths straight away, or follow up your original run to do extra damage thanks to the marking system?
Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior does a superb job of ramping up the difficulty and variety as you progress too. Barriers that need to be removed, gates that interchange, a plethora of enemy types and different terrain elevations all contribute to the puzzling combat sandbox. Later sections have so many variables to comprehend it becomes wildly confusing, until you practice different strategies.
I appreciated how each battle has an optimal time to try and hit, adding a hint of mastery. Part-way through the story you’ll also unlock the means to replay every battle with various difficulty modifiers and optional sub-objectives, which are ranked. I can already smell the YouTube tutorials and ridiculously skilful videos that will inevitably emerge.
Hades Upgrades Are Great
Aside from the arenas and enemy types themselves, Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior further deepens its gameplay with upgrades. Imë is no slouch in the powers department, with a primary (spell), passive (rune) and ultimate attack available to her. As you move through the campaign, you’ll acquire additional variants of each, with only one equippable at any time.
It might not sound like much, but a spell that allows you to dash up a level, or one which allows you to counterattack, completely shifts your playstyle. One ultimate may provide you the means of wiping out multiple enemies in one fell swoop, but the alternative could provide invulnerability, damage and increased movement. Matching your skills to the arena and the threats you face therefore becomes imperative.
As you might have guessed, I thoroughly basked in the abundance of options to tinker and customise. Don’t get me wrong, on my first playthrough I absolutely sucked and was far too inflexible with my experimentation. It meant I struggled in some arenas and the frustration naturally came as a result. However, Lysfanga offers the tools to success, it’s up to you, as the player, to make them work for you.
Fundamentally, the time management, encounter design and variety of threats vs skills are what make Lysfanga a strong warrior indeed. I didn’t always have as much fun, owing to some late-game battles having more spongey enemies and an overwhelming number of threats, but for the most part, the tactical puzzles hold up very well.
Between time-bending arena encounters, Imë will have the opportunity to stretch her legs in some splendid environments. The main progression path is totally linear, however, there are small off-shoots that will lead to chests (with runes or cosmetic items) or blue orbs called Motes of Magic. While they’re neat little additions, they don’t add a whole lot to the overall package.
Cosmetics are less enticing when the camera is situated as high as the ceiling of the Vatican, while Motes of Magic can purchase random items for the home base. The same home base you otherwise have very little reason to spend time in. Not insulting by any means, but if there’s any part of Lysfanga that could have been fleshed out more, it would be the exploration opportunities.
It’s not all pitchforks and desperate pleas for going back in time to avoid the negatives, however. Lysfanga’s environments and level design are alluring and delightful in their own right. The mix of Godly, futuristic and sci-fi objects within the Egyptian and Roman-inspired architecture is wonderfully done. I never tired of screeching over illuminated bridges or charging through blooming fauna locales.
There’s something truly quite magical imbued into the sense of place that Lysfanga’s graphic designers and art directors just simply smashed. I do wish there was a bit more interactivity with them, but that feels like a minor gripe in the grand scheme of the excellent art style. Imë’s sprinting animation does look… stilted, to say the least, however.
Time Is But A Construct
Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior drew me in with its Hades-esque look and combat, but I ended up staying for the tactical conundrums it so effectively poses. Sure, there were times I felt like an utter fool, devoid of any logical common sense. When you prevent a previous spectre from killing an enemy because you aggroed it unnecessarily, you’ll suddenly realise how foolhardy you are.
Nevertheless, I was compelled to continue on. Even if the story didn’t especially grab me, I wanted to see what the next challenge held in store. Aside from achieving the par times and gaining ranks in repeats of the battles, there’s not a whole lot you’d really return to the game for. For completion enthusiasts and those who enjoy hitting the highest peak of a skill ceiling though? Well, you’ll be well-fed indeed.
The combat never comes close to the perfection of Hades (then again, what does?), but learning and brain-teasing rumination is where Lysfanga shines brightest. The fact it looks so pretty as 9 other versions of yourself smash a load of hulking Raxes into yesteryear only makes it all the more enticing.
Inspired by Hades and Peaky Blinders: Mastermind, Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior succeeds in melding two genres into one relatively cohesive whole. The narrative may be stuck in the past and the exploration has little future, but the present moment-to-moment is jampacked with energetic combat, unique mechanics and compelling tactical decision-making. Imë’s journey is only just beginning, so why not join her?
Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior is available February 13th on PC.
Developer: Sand Door Studio
Publisher: Spotlight by Quantic Dream
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy from the publisher.